I have always been a bit of a technophile, an early adapter and generally proficient user of mainstream technologies. Twitter has been a glaring exception.
My philosophy has always been that technology should be used to solve real world problems. In the absence of that, I have little use for it. I saw Twitter as an amusement, something for kids and young adults. It was certainly not something I could find useful.
I simply didn’t get it. What purpose is there in limiting a tweet to 140 characters? What meaningful information can possibly be contained therein? I took it as yet another example of a culture with an increasingly shrinking attention span.
I continued to resist and protest, certain this was a techno fad that would quickly die the death of so many that came before. I was wrong, so very wrong.
I have had a Twitter account for a while because I was supposed to. My account settled into cyberspace, where it remained largely forgotten and rarely used. Until last week I had just 15 tweets in the past two years.
My co-workers and friends encouraged me to test the waters, explaining that once I “got it” I would never be the same.
Yielding to the pressure, last week I started with this tweet: “So, I’m officially jumping into the Twitter pool, heretofore having only put my toes in. Anyone who can help me swim …”
Since then the world of Twitter has opened up for me and I am hooked. In one short week I “get it,” and see Twitter as one of the most important tools in my technological arsenal.
This may seem overstated, but I had no concept of what Twitter actually did. Without knowing it, it was the technological tool I was looking for, a filter for the infinite content available online. Twitter filters and then delivers the content I need, want and that matters to me.
Imagine hosting a cocktail party. You can invite as many guests as you like from as many fields of interests as you have. Twitter allows you to wander the crowd, eavesdrop on the conversations and join if you are so inclined.
The 140 characters represent the overheard whisper that draws you in. The links that are provided allow you to explore the topic in greater depth. If you want to join the conversation, simply hit the reply button to add your voice.
Twitter provides almost instantaneous news, and content is available from nearly any city on the globe. If you want to follow news from your hometown, be it Chicago or Berlin, you will find it. But it is the more nuanced feeds that make the experience so valuable and personal.
The list of folks I follow offers an eclectic blend of news, commentary and human interest. I have invited just more than 150 to my cocktail party, and the door remains open. Some of my favorites are The Economist, Huffington Post, Anderson Cooper, NPR and Noozhawk. The Noozhawk feed is essential for Santa Barbarans.
But I also listen in on the conversations of regular folks with whom I have connected — mothers and fathers, Twitter experts and connections through my service clubs, Rotary and Lions International. They are all at the cocktail party, refined to my particular tastes and inclinations.
I do offer some caveats for novices like me. First, as you begin, don’t go to the party alone. I was lucky to have some good company to guide me. I also recommend using a social media dashboard such as TweetDeck or HootSuite. Second, like at most cocktail parties, there are some folks who have had too much to drink, and there are a plethora of mean drunks. Ignore them.
Finally, it is clear to me that Twitter is a force. I can understand and appreciate the role it has played in recent world events. I cannot know what social changes are on the horizon for us. I can say I believe Twitter will be part of them — not just reporting on them, but driving them. For this reason I encourage you to join the party and, if you are so inclined, my door is always open.
— Tim Durnin is a father, husband and serves as chief operating officer for Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.